Spring off to a slow start

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Wed, 25 Mar 2009 18:43:03 PDT
Spring is off to a slow start here in my Maryland garden. There has been
little rain and the garden lacks the lushness I expect at this time of year.
The last of the snowdrops are still hanging on; Leucojum vernum, the
erstwhile chionodoxas, Scilla bifolia, early daffodils, Crocus
angustifolius, Dutch crocuses, garden hellebores and Helleborus foetidus,
Magnolia stellata, Forsythia, Lindera benzoin, spring beauty, Mahonia
bealei, Hacquetia epipactis, Eranthis cilicica and ‘Guinea Gold’ are all in
full bloom. Eranthis hyemalis finished about two weeks ago.  Garden
hyacinths are starting, and the first of the tulips, the kaufmanniana
hybrids ‘Johann Strauss’ and ‘Early Harvest’ are also starting to bloom. 
In the unprotected cold frames Tulipa polychroma and Tulipa humilis have
been blooming for about two weeks – their congeners in the open garden have
yet to bloom. Fritillaria raddeana and F. bucharica are in full bloom , as
are two other frits whose names do not match their appearance. Both are
short (three-four inches); one has oval plum-black buds which have not
opened and the other has little yellow and rust bells. F. montana and F.
nigra (these two are very much alike as I grow them) are nearly in bloom.
Corydalis 'G P Baker' is blooming, C. popovii is up but no flowers have
appeared. Gymnospermium altaicum is blooming. I can see flower buds on some
of the tree peonies already. Eremurus are above ground as are the big frits
of the persica-imperialis sorts. 
The plant of Fritillaria raddeana mentioned above came from Jane McGary in
2005. It has bloomed here yearly since. It's never been more than about 10
inches or so high and grows from a bulb about the size of a walnut. Last
fall I ordered some bulbs of Fritillaria raddeana from one of the big bulb
houses. The bulbs I received were comparatively huge - like bulbs of
Fritillaria imperialis. And they were distinct in appearance from the bulbs
of F. imperialis and they lacked the skunky odor. These new ones are now
emerging - the sprouts are red-purple and big like those of F. imperialis.
I'll let everyone know what these turn out to be. I'm already wondering if
they might be some of the hybrids I saw on a Dutch web site last summer. 

In the protected cold frame Freesia viridis, Tecophilaea cyanocrocus in two
forms, and an unidentified Narcissus of the jonquil sort (tiny but very
fragrant) are all blooming. 
Iris unguicularis against the house wall continues to bloom freely. 

If all of that sounds like good news, it’s because I’ve left out the bad
news. There are disturbing gaps in the plantings: either many plants are
sleeping late or ... On top of that, squirrels got into the frames and dug
out some tulips and other bulbs – even some snowdrops which they decapitated
and then dropped. Squirrels are also digging tulips in the open garden; they
are so bulb-crazed that they are even digging things like hyacinths and
muscari, both of which they drop after taking a few bites. 

The squirrels are bad enough, but this year we also have rabbits which have
gotten into the frames and cropped some of the crocus foliage.

To top it all off, deer have entered the garden on several occasions and
browsed the tulips. So far they seem to be most interested in the tips of
the foliage – as a result, there will be tulips blooming in a few weeks
which will have only stubs of foliage. 

To thwart these greedy vegetarians I’ve placed wire here and there to cover
the plantings. The garden now looks a bit like an abandoned chicken farm,
with twenty and thirty foot long stretches of chicken wire spread over
various beds. There is chicken wire on the cold frames, too: it takes a
fritillary mashed down by the wire about two days to push up again through a
gap. Some early tulips which had pushed buds up through the wire and managed
to bloom have since been cropped. I didn’t even get a chance to get a
photograph to show for my troubles. 

Did I mention that we have had three nights in a row of below-freezing
temperatures? The ground has been frozen solid in the morning. Nor have
daytime temperatures been at all comforting. 

What a year!

Did I say the deer topped it all off? Actually, it’s worse than that. The
garden is dominated by a massive black oak. Close to the ground the trunk is
probably five feet in diameter; the main trunk ascends without branches
perhaps sixty or more feet – and it narrows only very gradually. The canopy
of this tree must be at least fifty or sixty feet in diameter. A few months
ago it dropped a gigantic limb onto the neighbor’s garage. That
un-neighborly behavior, in conjunction with the fact that it leans towards
our house, have led me to decide that the tree has to come down. Should it
fall on our house at night, we might not survive. 

There is no place for the workmen to work in the garden. Taking this tree
down will undoubtedly trash that section of the garden. I’m torn now about
which plants to move and which to sacrifice to chance. 

To those of you who always like to think the grass is always greener…..don’t
look in this direction.   
Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where I'm hoping for rain and a squirrel/rabbit/deer murrain. The local
owls and hawks are a lazy lot - or maybe it's just that the pickings here
are too easy. 
My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/
BLOG! http://mcwort.blogspot.com/
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin http://www.pvcnargs.org/ 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society http://www.potomaclilysociety.org/

More information about the pbs mailing list